Address at the Conference "New Connections"

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide's speech at the Conference "New Connections" - a global Conference on Women's Leadership for Sustainable Development held in Oslo on 27 November 2017.

Your Royal Highness, Mayor of Oslo, National Director of Care Norway – dear Gry - co-organisers Norfund and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let us for a moment look back to 1995 and the UN Women Conference in Beijing.

In Beijing, the world agreed on a Platform for Action to remove all obstacles to women’s participation through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.

The progress we have made since then has been considerable.

But not for everyone. And not everywhere.

Just two years ago, the world agreed on the SDGs. And 22 years after the Beijing Conference, SDG 5 is still needed if we are to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

When I tell you that gender equality is necessary to make the SDGs a reality, I am aware that I am stating the obvious and preaching to the converted.

We still have a long way to go.

Ensuring women’s equal participation in economic life is not only an issue in developing countries, but also here in Norway. 

The Global Gender Gap Report 2017 published by the World Economic Forum recently showed that given current trends, it will now take us 217 years to close the economic gender gap.

To say that this is not fast enough would be the understatement of the day.

If we are to achieve the world we want by 2030, it simply must be gender equal.

And it is not a question of WHY, it is a question of HOW.


We just got a taste of what former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland was up against in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Norway had to get used to the prospect of having a female Prime Minister.

But she changed the perception of what makes a leader, and made it a reality. 

Gro made women in the Norwegian Government and Storting the new normal. She paved the way for Erna Solberg. She paved the way for me.


The Government is committed to realising SDG 5 – both at home and through our foreign and development policy.

To achieve this, one of the main things we need to do is exactly what was done when women broke the glass ceiling in Norwegian politics:

We have to change norms, perceptions and expectations. 


The public sector and organisations like Care and the state-owned development finance institution Norfund are fairly gender balanced.

In partly or fully state-owned companies in Norway, close to 50% of the board members are women.

The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise’s Female Future programme is a good example of a concrete measure that has been taken to recruit more women to senior positions.

However, in the private sector only 30 % of managers are women. Women make up only around 20 % of the board members.

Norway cannot afford not to make full use of our human resources. A new study indicates that companies where 1/3 of the leadership consists of women are more profitable than companies without women at the helm.

Of course, there is reason to be cautious of the causes and effects, but companies that does not discriminate women seems to have a competitive advantage, and are more profitable, because of more diversity in the work force.

Women should have a natural place at the table when decisions are made, also in the private sector.

In order to achieve gender balance across sectors, men have to take as much responsibility for equality as women.

Closing the gender gap will have an immense economic impact. Real equality depends on getting men engaged and aware.

I have been working on the 1325-agenda on women, peace and security for close to 10 years. One of my main points has always been that the 1325-agenda must not be a “side show” – it must be the main event. And making sure the agenda is fully integrated is fully integrated in peace efforts and security policy is not the responsibility of women alone – one of the most important action points is in fact to engage men. Without male engagement, we have few ways of actually changing the (social) norms perceptions and expectations.


Ensuring equal opportunities for women is a key cross-cutting theme in Norway’s development policy.

Girls and women must be allowed to take part in growing the economy.

Women’s and girls’ access to health services, education, energy and jobs are priorities in our development policy and in our humanitarian assistance.

Taking the Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy as our basis, we will work to ensure full economic rights for women and equal opportunities to participate in the labour market.

Women’s economic independence can only be realised if they have full economic rights and access to capital.

Norway has joined the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, We-Fi, launched this autumn by the World Bank, and supported by the G20.  

We-Fi aims to unlock more than USD 1 billion in international financial institution and commercial financing.

The goal is to advance women’s entrepreneurship and to help women in developing countries increase their access to the finance, markets, technology, and networks they need to start and grow a business.

Norway committed NOK 90 million at the launch of We-Fi.


A combination of male and female leaders in politics and business provides a mix of experience and competence that drives innovation and allows our societies to prosper.

We must work to change perceptions and expectations of what makes a good leader. We all have a responsibility to do this. Private sector, public sector, NGOs, politicians and the media.

I would like to thank Care, Norfund, and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) for creating a platform for exchanging views on this important matter.

Equality is not just a women’s issue.

I will end with a statement Hillary Clinton made in Beijing in 1995. It is frequently used, and with good reason:

‘Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights’,

I think that pretty much sums things up.

Thank you.